Work shapes us. On average, we spend 37% of our adult waking lives on the job. And you can bet that percentage is higher for entrepreneurs. Understandably, the ups and downs of the workplace impact our mental and emotional well-being. Collectively we thrive on the positive aspects, striving for inspiring company cultures with high morale. But too often we avoid giving a thought to the inverse: that work can induce anxiety, stress, and depression. We need to change that, because these conditions can have a severe impact on any business. (Think: a rise in sick days, a dip in sales performance, the potential for injury, and a dark cloud hovering over your team.)
Workplace stressors that cause mental health issues don’t disappear on their own. As entrepreneurs, it’s up to us to craft cultures and work environments that foster well-being.
We realized this at Bench after a particularly busy peak period, when stress levels in the office were palpable. As a team, we needed to crack open an oft-taboo subject, and devise ways to take care of our collective mental well-being. The result was a Bench-specific Mental Health Guide. I’d like to share some of the highlights from the guide, in the hope that it helps you start a conversation around mental wellness in your own business, too.
Highlights From the Bench Mental Health Guide
The motivation for creating our own mental health guide at Bench was twofold: we wanted Benchmates to know that it was common to experience mental wellness issues, and that it was safe to discuss and seek out support for mental health challenges whenever they arose.
To instill practices and cultural norms that support Benchmates in achieving mental wellness, here are some of the solutions we came up with:
We Shared Candid Employee Stories
We asked a few Benchmates to publicly share their experience with mental wellness. Jen and Graydon, Operations Managers at Bench, opened up about their experience with anxiety in the workplace. Adam Saint, Bench’s VP of Design, shared techniques he uses to maintain equilibrium. Allowing everyone at Bench to see that others have struggled with mental wellness de-stigmatizes the issue, making it safe for all Benchmates to open up and resolve issues as soon as they arise.
We Encouraged Team Bonding
Bonding exercises, get togethers, and team-specific rituals have sprung up organically throughout Bench. While we have no statistical data or research to prove the benefits of each method, having experienced it firsthand we know that they help to alleviate stress during busy periods. Hence, we fully encourage Benchmates to participate and create team traditions that work for their needs.
Some of the bonding exercises, rituals, and get togethers Benchmates come together for include:
- Weekly one-hour “boot camp” style workouts
- Regular after work bike rides
- Photography walks on lunch breaks
- Weekly meetings just for socialising (no work allowed)
- Anonymous “High Fives”: team members are encouraged to write short, anonymous notes that offer genuine praise to their colleagues; the notes are then read aloud at monthly team meetings
We Pointed Out Tools and Mindfulness Practices
We Told Everyone How to Leverage Their Benefits
Benchmates have access to a health benefits plan, personal days, and a monthly wellness fund (money that they can spend on anything related to health and fitness). Rather than have them live in fear of taking a personal day (common in high performance work environments), we laid it out. The guide explains how Benchmates can use their benefits to find and see a psychologist in the local area, and take a day off when they need some space.
We Nominated Mental Health Advocates
While colleagues seldom double as qualified physicians, therapists, or counselors, they can be great starting points for discussing work-related challenges. We nominated Benchmates within the company to act as go-to sources for “safe” conversations.
We Created a Process for Supporting Peers
When a colleague tells you they’re having a rough time, what’s the most appropriate way to respond? We offered a process for Benchmates to support peers who were struggling with mental health.
How to Create a Mental Health Policy
If you think your employees or colleagues wouldn’t be interested in a mental wellness guide, you’re probably in for a surprise. As soon as we floated the idea at Bench, excitement built and the project gained momentum, attracting buy-in from all teams company wide.
Compiling the guide, the following questions directed our planning and research (interviewing Benchmates from every team, looking into what other companies were doing, etc.):
- What is the current quality of Benchmates’ mental well-being?
- What are Benchmates already doing to support their mental health?
- What workplace triggers are causing Benchmates’ mental health to suffer?
- How can we create an environment where it’s okay to put your hand up and say “I’m struggling” without fear of losing your job?
These questions are a solid starting point for crafting your business's approach to mental well-being. Just know that what you offer in your mental health guide or policy will depend on the size, nature, and structure of your setup, and your team.
If you’re concerned that addressing mental health isn’t appropriate for your business or your industry, keep in mind: embracing vulnerability in the workplace has been identified as key to employee and organizational success. “Bookkeeping company” and “mental health” aren’t often found in the same sentence, but somehow we managed to make mental wellness a priority in a way that made sense for everyone who works at Bench.
Mental Health Should Be an Ongoing Priority in Every Business
Chiming into the workplace health debate, satirical news outlet The Onion published an article: Health Experts Recommend Standing Up, Leaving Office, Never Coming Back.
Humor aside, we’re serious about creating an environment where Benchmates never reach a point where they’re so slammed/anxious/stressed/burned out that they feel the only option for achieving wellness is to leave Bench.
In the few months since we released the guide, we’ve experimented with ways to keep the conversation on the table. Daily mindfulness meditation sessions are now offered in-house, and a mental health advocacy group meets monthly to brainstorm and implement new initiatives that support mental well-being.
Although we’re still finding our feet with the practices that will support Benchmates in the long term, so far we’ve seen a positive response to the guide and these small initiatives. It’s clear that making mental wellness an ongoing priority will support Benchmates during tax season (crunch time).
While our mental health guide will change and evolve as our team grows, feel free to adopt anything you see in the current version that will support mental wellness in your own business. By making mental health a priority in the workplace, you won’t just help usher in a trend that’s long overdue—you’ll support yourself and your team, and you’ll enjoy the array of tangible benefits that come from increased employee satisfaction and well-being.
Download a copy of the Bench Mental Health Guide. We welcome you to use its contents at will.
This month we're exploring the role that physical and mental well-being plays in the entrepreneurial experience. Our next article investigates how your workspace influences your well-being. Subscribe to the blog and get notified when it's published.